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"Will not tolerate violent anti-state sentiment"

Mona Neubaur does not dare to announce the preparations for the evacuation of Lützerath.

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"Will not tolerate violent anti-state sentiment"

Mona Neubaur does not dare to announce the preparations for the evacuation of Lützerath. North Rhine-Westphalia's Green Economics Minister leaves this delicate task to NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU).

"In the end, Lützerath has to be empty, and that's only possible with an overall operation in which, firstly, the barricades are removed, secondly, the people are moved, thirdly, all the houses are demolished and the trees are cleared, i.e. the occupation infrastructure is eliminated," says Reul am Thursday in Parliament. “Otherwise it will be occupied again immediately. And we start all over again.”

The opposition FDP has requested a debate about the unclear situation in Lützerath and criticizes the state government for being too hesitant. More than 100 eco-activists are staying in the village and want to prevent the dredging of the abandoned village for climate protection reasons.

The energy company RWE wants to get lignite out of the ground there and use it to supply its power plants, which are allowed to run longer because of the energy crisis. The company wants to prepare the terrain for the bucket wheel excavators this winter, which means tearing down houses, cutting down trees, razing everything to the ground - above all: the place must be deserted.

It is no longer a question of whether Lützerath will be evacuated, that has been clarified legally and politically. It's about the timing. This year it is no longer possible; the responsible police authority in Aachen has already ruled this out due to a complex preparation phase. The deployment planning should take about eight weeks. There is still a time window in the new year until the end of February 2023 at the latest, when the clearing season ends and RWE would then have to wait until next October.

Local residents and climate activists demonstrate against the demolition of a village near Aachen. "The town of Lützerath should disappear from the map," reports Jens Reupert. He speaks to Julia Riedel from the "Lützerath is alive!" initiative.

Source: WORLD / Jens Reupert

The black-green state government is therefore serious about Lützerath. Reul explains in the state parliament that he and his cabinet colleague Neubaur sent a letter to the responsible authority on Thursday, which in turn turns to other bodies until an application for enforcement assistance arrives at the police in Aachen. “RWE may claim the area. It is currently only a matter of safely implementing this project in Lützerath. The state government has been in contact with all those involved for a long time. The dismantling measures announced by RWE are fully protected,” emphasizes Reul.

On behalf of the black-green state government, he also announces resolute toughness: “We will not tolerate violent anti-state sentiment being made under the guise of climate protests. There are no compromises.” Everything is being done “to de-escalate the situation,” adds Reul. He also makes an appeal to the squatters: "Don't let yourself be radicalized. Don't let it escalate.”

Environmental groups and initiatives have long been warning of a "Hambi 2.0" and recall the dramatic clearing of the neighboring Hambach Forest at the end of 2018, when hundreds of police officers marched and tree squatters were driven away.

"If the state government continues to push for a Hambi 2.0, then we will resist. It will be the prominence of the environmental organizations on site when the state government sets the police on the march," said Dirk Jansen from the BUND NRW one day before Reul's announcement in the state parliament. In Jansen's opinion, it is "absurd how ignorant the federal government, but also the state government, deals with climate protection. We will defend ourselves against this with all peaceful means.”

This scenario has been unsettling the Greens in North Rhine-Westphalia for months: A minister from her party, of all people, could soon be jointly responsible for one of the largest police operations to evict eco-squatters and implement RWE's downsizing plans. Viewed spatially, Lützerath is a small part of a huge mining project that has been promoted between Aachen and Cologne for decades. With the Garzweiler opencast mine, one of several gigantic gorges was created. The Greens fought against Garzweiler politically vehemently 30 years ago.

In February 1995, the SPD state government at the time presented a permit decree for the Garzweiler II opencast lignite mine. The Greens were outraged that one of the most important decisions had been made without involving parliament. "We won't put up with that," criticized Green MP Michael Vesper at the time. He called the opencast mine a "mad project" that contradicts all climate policy goals. "Anyone who says save energy and does Garzweiler II is making themselves unbelievable," Vesper rumbled.

A month later, when it came to the SPD motion “Yes to Garzweiler II” in the state parliament, the Green said: “In the next state parliament, in whatever role, as in this state parliament, we will do everything we can to Garzweiler II impede."

It turned out differently. After the state elections in May 1995, the first red-green state government took up its work, and Vesper became the deputy of Prime Minister Johannes Rau (SPD). The Green Environment Minister Bärbel Höhn was responsible for the water law permit for Garzweiler II. In subsequent coalitions with the SPD, the Greens repeatedly gave way on coal policy and were only able to record minor successes.

After the coal agreement of October 4, 2022, Green government officials are again being criticized for going too far in accommodating RWE. Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens), North Rhine-Westphalia Economics Minister Neubaur and RWE CEO Markus Krebbe have agreed on an earlier phase-out of lignite in 2030 in the Rhenish Revier and on the rescue of five places, but Lützerath, which is strongly charged with climate symbols, has to give way.

The BUND sees this as a "backroom deal"; initiatives question the seriousness of the reports, which were prepared under time pressure. The FDP complains that the agreement was drawn up without the involvement of Parliament.

The fact that Neubaur is now doing what the SPD did almost 30 years ago is no longer surprising for climate protectors. From the point of view of the climate protectors, there is still "room for maneuver" to prevent Lützerath from being excavated. But they see no willingness on the part of the state government. There were long and friendly talks with Neubaur beforehand, says Dirk Jansen, "but in the end we were told: The door is closed, that's it."

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.

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